After my solitary and wonderful sojourn in Vinales I joined a group in Havana. The group did have a purpose but more about that later. Having joined the group I felt obliged to do a few communal things with the people in it and some of them, both the people and the things were very nice! However, the problem with doing anything with the group (at least initially before we stopped doing things that were laid on), was that it inevitably involved being crammed into and carted around in the worst kind of rickety charabanc imaginable. On top of this we always stood for an age outside our wonderful hotel waiting for the jalopy to turn up.
On one occasion, once signed up to go to the canon firing ceremony at the Parque Historico Militar Morro-Cabana we nearly missed the canon firing. Rita, our local guide, arranged by the holiday company Skyros, had been stuck in traffic across town and we waited and waited and when we got there there was just time to get in place for the historical costumed ceremonial firing after which we didnt get to visit the museum because it immediately closed, they charged 25CUC (about £15 or $25) for the debacle.
My advice would be to take a four peso taxi from Vedado or Habana Vieja or make an afternoon of it and take a long walk along the famous Malecon. You may have to cross the road sometimes to avoid the waves that crash onto the pavement but you can see the stunning but crumbling architecture along this iconic sea road and recall scenes from the film Our Man in Havana. Fidel allowed the 1959 to be filmed in Cuba but complained that the brutality of Batista’s regime was not accurately depicted. Greene commented ‘Alas, the book did me little good with the new rulers in Havana. In poking fun at the British Secret Service, I had minimized the terror of Batista’s rule. I had not wanted too black a background for a light-hearted comedy, but those who suffered during the years of dictatorship could hardly be expected to appreciate that my real subject was the absurdity of the British agent and not the justice of a revolution.’
His hilarious book does touch on in parts the brutality of Batista’s regime more that the film (a cigarette case made of human skin, class distinctions in torture :- ‘there are those who expect to be toruted and those who dont, one never tortures without mutual agreement’. For the brutatity of Castro’s regime read Reinaldo Arenas’ ‘Before Night Falls’.
We bought tickets to the ballet at Gran Teatro de la Habana, and worrying whether the the ancient van would get us there on time was not the only bad start. Half of the people went in and to the other half of which I was one, Rita said ‘we have a problem’. The problem was that they didnt have our tickets at the desk, someone suggested we simply go the following night. This possible solution was not addressed. After we were lead into a rubbish strewn side street were we caught the attention of one of the (few) town crazies it became apparent that the plan was to have one of the make up artists meet us at the stage door and usher us through narrow corridors full of tutu and tight-clad performers while Rita hissed ‘quickly!, quickly!’. I dont think it would be terribly cynical of me to assume that half of the (30 CUC or $30)tickets were not bought.
The ballet was exquisite and I recognised some of the elegant and beautiful dancers I had seen walking around the old town (and in the audience the girl I wrote about in ‘Treat Me Like a Princess).
Alicia Alonso Cuba’s Prima ballerina assoluta said “The Cuban style comes from deep within the Cuban spirit, from our joys and from our sadness,’‘ Alonso says. “Some people are turned inward. The Cubans are always out, sensual. The Cuban ballet style comes from me, from my way of projecting my whole being. ‘What looks natural on the Soviets,’ she says, ‘would have looked mimetic, like a mannerism on us. We had a hard time explaining that to our Soviet friends.’ Many Cuban danseurs and danseuses, just like their Russian counterparts have defected whilst on tour.